Are You Experienced?
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SAN ANTONIO, June 6, 2007 -- Been there. Done that.

The Spurs are the experienced team in the 2007 NBA Finals. They've won three championships in the last eight years, while Eric Snow is the only player on the Cavs roster who has even played in the Finals (with the Sonics in 1996 and the Sixers in 2001, losing both times).

But Tim Duncan is the only player on the roster who has been with the team for all three titles. And in addition to Duncan, only Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Bruce Bowen have two rings with the Spurs, while Brent Barry, Robert Horry and Beno Udrih have one. Horry, of course, has rings for all five of his fingers on his Rockets-and-Lakers hand.

So, if the Spurs are to win title No. 4, they're going to need some help from a few guys who have never been here before. Guys like Michael Finley, Fabricio Oberto, Jacque Vaughn and Francisco Elson.

Finley is getting a good bit of attention this week as he makes his first Finals appearance. After 10 seasons (eight and a half of them in Dallas) in the league, he signed with the Spurs the summer after they won their third title. He's a two-time All-Star and has played in 85 career playoff games.

But this is his first trip to the NBA Finals.

"You come into the league," Finley told the media throng Wednesday, "and you think it's a given that you make The Finals in your first 4-to-5 years. But then you find out it's a tough league."

He thought he was going to get here with the Mavs, but the closest he came was a 4-2 Conference Finals loss in 2003 to the team he now plays for. Two years later, he joined them.

"As a competitor," he said, "I've always wanted to get to the point where San Antonio was in the past. And when I became a free agent, I had the opportunity to join them. And I took advantage of it."

But as good a player that Finley is, he didn't feel like he was an integral part of last year's team that fell to Dallas in the Conference Semifinals.

"I think last year," he said, "if we would have won it, I would have felt more like an add-on, on something they had already built."

But beginning with training camp this season, as coach Gregg Popovich addressed last year's failings, Finley felt more involved. And now, he feels like he's part of the core group that has gone 70-28 so far this season.

"Compared to last year," he said, "I feel a lot more comfortable."

And now, he has made it to the grand stage. But does he feel any added pressure as the guy who hasn't held the Larry O'Brien Trophy yet?

"I don't think there's added pressure on me," he said. "I've have so many people that have been there, done that on my team that if I have any concerns or anything that may make me slightly nervous, I can just talk to them. We have a lot of guys that have NBA Finals experience, for me to be nervous... I don't think so."

Vaughn, who was a rookie on the Jazz when they lost to the Bulls in the 1998 Finals, but played just seven minutes in that series, feels similarly. In fact, he sought an environment where success was expected.

"I don't think so," he told me when I asked if he felt pressure. "One of the things that drew me to this team is the expectations that are here every year. The fans and the organization expect us to be successful. And that's a good driving force as an individual. For me, that's one of the things that lured me here."

But Elson, perhaps because he's only in his third year as a pro, is not as composed as his veteran teammates.

"Of course there's pressure," he said. "You're putting that pressure on yourself, because you want to win one and do your best. This is probably one of the opportunities that only come around one time, and you don't want to miss out. So, there's some pressure on you to perform at the highest level."

And he felt it from Day 1 in San Antonio, when he signed with the Spurs last summer.

"I felt [like an outsider], and some pressure," he said, "because you move into a starting position. You've never been on a championship team. Expectations were exceptionally high, because they missed out on the Finals last year. For me, it was difficult to adjust because of the system that they played and the style that they played. But as time goes along, you adjust pretty quick. And it's such a great team, everybody's teaching you and helping you adjust to that level and style of play."

Oberto has won the South American championship, has played in the European League finals and has an Olympic gold medal, but this is a new experience for the Argentine.

"I've been in other finals before," he said, "but I never imagined taking part in an NBA Finals. Two years ago I was watching the TV, following Manu during the playoffs and his second trip to the Finals. Now, here we are. I'm very lucky to be part of this, so I just want to enjoy the whole experience and I'm looking forward to do a good job from Game 1."

So, while you watch this series, and as you measure the Spurs' experience vs. that of the Cavs, keep an eye on the San Antonio newbies. They've got to prove that they belong.

And if they do, they will be able to say, "Been there, done that."

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